You have no doubt by now have heard of “the cloud.” “Storing files in the cloud” simply means that rather than having your files stored on your own computer or on a separate disk or drive that connects to your computer, everything is stored on the Internet. Today, cloud use for computing itself, beyond just storage, is increasing significantly.
If you check your e-mail from your phone, get directions using a GPS device, or listen to music on Pandora or another music service, you’ve been using cloud computing. Because high-speed Internet connections have become more available and it’s more common to alternate among tablets, smartphones, and desktop computers, moving files back and forth became a problem. If the files are stored in the cloud, there’s a benefit to using the same software on all of those devices, but that’s not always possible because of the amount of on-device storage needed for word processing and other software. So rather than install software on your tablet or smartphone, fast Internet connections can access software running on computer servers in the cloud as if they were your computer. With good connection speeds, it’s hard to tell the difference. Most cloud-based software works within your everyday Internet browser, although sometimes you might need to download a special phone or tablet app that is specially designed to interface with the cloud software.
More and more software companies are creating cloud versions of their software; Microsoft Office 365 (products.office.com) is a cloud version of the Office suite, while Adobe’s Creative Cloud (www.adobe.com/creativecloud.html) takes Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and the company’s other high-end design tools into the cloud. Intuit now offers QuickBooks cloud accounting (quickbooks.intuit.com/cloud-accounting-software). To use these services, you pay a regular subscription (monthly or yearly) and you get desktop versions of the software (so you can work offline) as well as some quantity of online storage. The desktop applications and corresponding mobile apps can access these files wherever you happen to be. This is also great for collaborating, since you can share files, as well.
Cloud-based software is not favored by everyone, and even we are a little leery of subscribing to software rather than just buying it outright, or using Open Source software. But however you may feel about what is known as “software as a service (SaaS),” the cloud still can offer tremendous benefits just in terms of storage. Cloud storage lets you keep all your files on a third-party system, which is a great boon as the number of devices we may be using increases.
There is a growing number of cloud storage services. A few to investigate are:
- Amazon Cloud Drive (www.amazon.com/clouddrive)
- Box.com (www.box.com)
- Copy.com (www.copy.com)
- Dropbox (www.dropbox.com)
- Microsoft OneDrive (onedrive.live.com)
- Western Digital Personal Cloud (www.wdc.com)
They all have a selection of plans, from very basic free plans that offer relatively low storage capacity (usually around 10 or 15 gigabytes), only one user, and limits on individual file size, to mid-range plans for $10–$20 per month that offer more storage and the ability to add users, to high-end enterprise plans for larger businesses. They also offer the ability to access stored files on a variety of desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. Amazon’s Cloud Drive is free to Amazon Prime members, as well as owners of Kindles, Fires, or other Amazon mobile devices.
Although we have not tried all of these services, Richard uses Dropbox—the basic free edition—to share large files (like book production files) with colleagues. In fact, it has become so simple to just copy a folder of graphics files to Dropbox and e-mail a link to it that he no longer uses Hightail (formerly YouSendIt), which is a third-party cloud service for sending large files to colleagues whose e-mail servers block attachments over a certain size.
All of these services boast high security, but for those of us paranoid about hacks or outages—as well as the fact that we are not always connected to the Internet—it is always a good idea to have copies stored locally and/or on an external hard drive.
It could be argued that the combination of cloud computing and cloud storage is eliminating the need to even have a computer, and just use a tablet or Google Chromebook.
For the common software programs you might use, such as word processing or spreadsheets, there are great benefits to cloud computing. First, you can pay a small monthly fee for the software rather than making a big purchase of software that might be as much as the computer you are buying. Second, the cloud-based software is always up to date. You don’t have to worry about making upgrades or installing program fixes.
If you are concerned about not always having an Internet connection, you should be. For this reason, Microsoft’s Office 365 does allow downloading of full versions of software as part of the subscription, to as many as five devices. This is one reason why we would favor using the Microsoft service rather than something like Google documents. The OneDrive service allows you to share documents with others without having to attach them to e-mails. The Microsoft service requires you to open a Microsoft e-mail account based on their Outlook e-mail product.
We’ve never liked Outlook on our computers as hackers always seemed to be targeting it and if you have a computer crash, you might lose years worth of e-mail. But now, Outlook is a cloud-based product, much like Gmail is, which is a big improvement. While we’re not fans of Outlook and don’t use it as our regular e-mail application, it does provide a convenient way of keeping your business computing life separate from your personal computing life.
If you use cloud services, you will always have free open source software to use as a backup should you not have a connection.